Representations of Poverty in British Newspapers: A Case of ‘Othering’ the Threat?


  • Apurv Chauhan,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK
    • Correspondence to: Apurv Chauhan, Institute of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. E-mail:

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  • Juliet Foster

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
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The meanings of social problems like poverty develop within the public sphere. This paper uses the theory of social representations to examine how poverty is represented in British newspapers. Poverty has been discussed and interpreted in numerous ways, and newspapers not only provide a platform for these elaborations but also contribute to shaping public understanding on the issue. The study sampled news coverage on poverty in four British newspapers during two randomly chosen one-month periods in the years 2001 and 2011. The data set of news reports (n = 274) was thematically analysed to examine representations of poverty. The study found that in the domestic context, media represents poverty as a problem limited to vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. With a lack of discussion on the wider socio-economic causes and contributing factors, poverty within the UK appears as an ‘orphan phenomenon’ with an unknown genesis. In contrast, the representations of poverty outside the UK are vivid and elaborate, and the news reports hold the socio-political inefficiency of countries responsible for poverty. The study also found that the media uses poverty to make sense of catastrophic events in society: the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the London riots of 2011 were both anchored using poverty. This paper discusses the representational dynamics of these findings and argues that the media representations distance general society from poverty, representing it as a problem of the other. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.